Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why "Birth Rape" is rape

Samantha Thurlby-Brooks' controversial piece, Socially Accepted Violence Against Pregnant and Labouring Women was written for women just like me.

To add to her excellent discussion, I will address a comment she received, stating "The very real and troubling trend of violence and rape against women and the attempts to highlight it are not served well by calling everything rape and violence." Rape and justice in our society has been a hot topic recently. I salute all those who have shared their highly personal stories.

This commenter questioned the very idea of elevating some birth experiences to compare them with rape. This idea of "birth rape" is already very controversial.

This is my answer.

What happened to me?

This was sort of Part 2 of our horrific birth experience. Part 1 is too long to tell in full, but went from a planned home birth, to learning about our baby's abnormal status by hearing it shouted by the sonographer down the hall to the receptionist, to being told impatiently that catheterisation would be much easier if I would just relax, and going under the general anaesthetic for my caesarean in tears.

Part 2 is also too long to tell in full. My husband visited me in recovery to share that we had a boy, and he was doing all right, so I thought at least the worst was over. It seemed I could feel myself continue to bleed, but the nurses assured me everything was OK. Eventually, a sudden blood pressure drop confirmed I was hemorrhaging.

Someone (doctor, nurse, I don't know) tried to stop the bleeding using pressure. That means she stuck most of her hand up my vagina as far as my cervix while pushing very hard on my abdomen with the other hand to squeeze my uterus in between. Many times, removing and reinserting her hand. As my husband watched in horror, until he was hustled away. (Note: this was my stitched-up abdomen, and a vagina that had not experienced any labour stretching.)

When I finally screamed, a male doctor decided to put gauze in some forceps and push that up my vagina to my cervix instead. He thought this might be more comfortable, and seemed honestly taken aback when I screamed again.

This did not stop the bleeding. I truly believed I could die before seeing my first child, because they seemed to be doing their worst and yet I was still bleeding.

The rest of the story is more typically medical, with lots of needles desperately hunting veins, transfusions, and drugs, leading eventually to "a healthy mother and a healthy baby."

10 reasons this is rape

This is a horrifying story, and it was a horrifying experience, but how can I justify calling it rape? All I know about rape is what I've heard from others. So here's a little list.

1 This was intimate trauma involving sexual parts of my body, which is embarrassing to discuss While sharing trauma in a safe environment can be key to healing, there are few such safe environments
2 A story so personal and shocking that it makes most people uncomfortable and uncertain how to react and connect with me. As above. People often ask "how was the birth?" But I am discouraged from being "that woman" who tells her awful story around pregnant women, spreading bad energy.
3 Seeking understanding or justice requires reliving the trauma When I shared my perspective with the medical team, they were defensive against possible official action, not understanding. The harder I try to provide the details to make my point, the more painful it is each time.
4 The destruction of trust and birth of fear This experience colours all my medical experiences, and I have no way to fully trust a medical professional again.
5 Damage to future sexual relationships I could not have penetrative sex for more than a year
6 Damage to physical and emotional wellbeing, and the need to carry on with life regardless I needed extensive therapy for my PTSD, both after the birth and before my next birth. 8 years later, I still suffer physical symptoms of the trauma, like hyperreaction to being touched. And there was a very small baby that needed my care.
7 The desperate drive to know "Why did this happen to me?" It's natural to seek some measure of control by asking why, seeking answers, and placing (or accepting) blame. I did it, and so did many other people involved.
8 ... and the rest of the neverending post-mortem There is no end to it.
Why didn't I call for help if it was so bad? (I was in total shock and hoped it would all go away if I was still. Also, I didn't believe anybody could help.)
But it was done to save me and I signed a medical release form... (Complicity in my own rape.)
9 It happened a long time ago, so why should it still be an issue? "You are clinging to this." "It's time to move on." "It wasn't that bad." "At least you survived." "All that matters is that you have a healthy baby." "You should own your birth experience."
10 It happens more than we want to believe or accept Usually, what happens at the hospital stays at the hospital. But just ask Samantha Thurlby-Brooks, who has listened to women's experiences without the apologist filter on.

Any of that sound familiar?

Worse? Better? Different?

Clearly there are aspects of sexual-predator-rape which can't apply to my experience. There are also unique aspects to birth rape. Of course there are worse stories than mine - rape stories, birth stories - but let's not make it a competition.

In no way do I seek to distract attention from women who have suffered rape. I seek, like them, not to be trivialised or dismissed due to ignorance, discomfort, and silence.